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Postal Bottleneck in Puerto Rico, Christensen Says

Oct. 28, 2008 — Mail to the Virgin Islands gets hung up in Puerto Rico, Delegate Donna M. Christensen said Tuesday at a phone press conference on a U.S. Postal Service investigation into the ongoing and numerous problems with the territory's mail delivery.
"The mail is processed too many times," she said. "They'll recommend they reduce the number of times it's handled."
In many cases the mail gets handled six or seven times before it gets delivered, Christensen said. A report by the investigators will include a recommendation for on-island sorting of mail on St. Thomas destined for St. Thomas, as well as mail on St. Croix staying on St. Croix. The report does not include a similar recommendation for St. John, but Christensen is suggesting that it do so.
The territory's mail goes first to Puerto Rico for processing, even if a letter is going to the adjacent mailbox, Christensen said. In the case of St. John, it must go to St. Thomas before getting shipped to Puerto Rico.
First class, priority and express mail come by plane from Puerto Rico, but magazines, catalogues and surface-mail packages come by barge. The barge arrives Monday and Friday.
"This overwhelms the staff," Christensen said.
The report will recommend an additional barge delivery to lighten the load on the V.I. staff, she said.
While it remains unknown how the Postal Service will reduce the number of times mail to the Virgin Islands gets handled, coming from the mainland it still must be screened for biohazards, Christensen said.
For intra-island and inter-island mail, the Postal Service may decide to treat the territory as one post office so biohazard screening wouldn't be necessary.
"Or use dogs," she said.
Damaged mail has also been a problem. A package-handling machines was chewing up the boxes, Christensen said. In some cases the contents fell out. The machine has been removed from service, she said.
As for the planned new post office on St. John, Christensen said the land needs to be rezoned.
"The issue is between the DPNR and Government House," she said, referring to the Planning and Natural Resources Department.
St. John's Breeze Enterprises, a Boyson company, is expected to build a turn-key operation for the Post Office on land near Enighed Pond.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection also causes problem for mail leaving the territory. Customs often holds mail without letting the Postal Service know they have it and why, Christensen said. The investigators' recommendations will ask Customs to give the Postal Service, at the end of every day, a list of mail held and the reason why.
After years of complaints about the mail delivery and no help from the Postal Service, Christensen asked Rep. Danny K. Davis to call for an investigation. Davis chairs the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia. It is a subcommittee in the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The Postal Service launched the investigation in June.
"They found all complaints valid," Christensen said. "Every class of mail demonstrated delays, but once it got to the Virgin Islands there were no delays."
Christensen expects the investigators to make final recommendations in December or January.
"This is a progress report," she said.
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